“Vell,” he said, “you had a tough time here, in Kimberley, I dink, ain’t it?”
“Yes, we had an awful time,” said his friend, “especially after the hundred-pound shells began flying around.”
“Vell,” said the refujew, “ve had a derrible time in Capetown also. Ve didn’t haf no bomb-shells, but de cooking at de hotels vos fearful.”
Letter To An ArchaeologistRecently I had a conversation with a Fascist who had joined up with Sir Oswald Mosley and talked very freely of his plans. There was, as he said, no need for reticence since there was no secrecy about the programme. For the same reason there is no need for me to be reticent. He spoke with some confidence about the success of the word “refujew”, which was going over well in places like Manchester, Leeds and the East End of London, where there is already a prejudice against Jews. The refujews are of course responsible for the war, control international finance, created Bolshevism and so on and so forth. “Of course,” he said, “we should not use such a line of propaganda in Hertford or Hereford; there some quite different grievance has to be exploited, tithes or what-not.” I asked him whether he believed all this stuff about the Jews. He said that it did not matter at all whether it was true or not, all that mattered was whether it went over and brought grist to the Fascist mill. “The truth of what you say is of no importance at all?” “None at all,” he assured me. “Are you equally indifferent to the incidental results of your propaganda?” I asked. “If for instance a large number of innocent and helpless people are mobbed and beaten up or murdered as a result of your lies, that doesn’t worry you either?” “Not in the slightest,” he said. “Somebody has to suffer in any revolution and it may as well be the Jews. The end justifies the means.” “But what,” I said, “is the end?” The end was Fascist power, but I could not find that he had any clear idea of what they would do with power when they got it. “The end would no doubt justify the means if the means would achieve the end,” I said, “but don’t you see that these means will not produce any end that you desire?” “How is that?” he asked. “Well,” I said, “if you tell me that you will always lie in order to do down your opponents and don’t mind how much suffering and misery you cause, if you will indeed stop at nothing, then there is no social or moral relationship between us?” “No,” he said, “that is so, if we are on opposite sides.” “Then,” I said, “I know that you will choose some convenient moment when my back is turned to stick a knife into it.” “Yes,” he said, “if it suits me.” “Do you not see then that that leaves me with no alternative but to seek a moment when I can conveniently destroy you before you destroy me, and that in such circumstances all loyalty, decency, mutual trust and, indeed, all the foundations of any stable society disappear?” He agreed that that was a difficulty. “Even supposing you do get power, then,” I said, “you will all have won by treachery and violence and none of you will trust each other. Each of you will know that the other is ready to stick a knife into his neighbour’s back the moment it suits him. The only possible result of such tactics of revolution is that you will go through the experience of Germany and Russia, suspicions lead to ‘informing’ and informing to plotting and plotting to purges and blood-baths and so on to more blood-baths until finally you get to Rauschning’s Nihilism.” He seemed a bit bothered about this. It was, he said, a real snag.
Citizen, enemy, mama’s boy, sucker, utter
garbage, panhandler, swine, refujew, verrucht;
a scalp so often scalded with boiling water
that the puny brain feels completely cooked.
Yes, we have dwelt here: in this concrete, brick, wooden
rubble which you now arrive to sift.
All our wires were crossed, barbed, tangled, or interwoven.
Also: we didn’t love our women, but they conceived.
Sharp is the sound of pickax that hurts dead iron;
still, it’s gentler than what we’ve been told or have said ourselves.
Stranger! move carefully through our carrion:
what seems carrion to you is freedom to our cells.
Leave our names alone. Don’t reconstruct those vowels,
consonants, and so forth: they won’t resemble larks
but a demented bloodhound whose maw devours
its own traces, feces, and barks, and barks.
— Joseph Brodsky, 1983
reproduced in Critic’s London Diary: from the New Statesman, 1931-1956, Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd; 1960, p. 80